Reviews

Microsoft Band – In Depth Review

April 5, 2015

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEvjulEJH9w

Read the Microsoft Band 2 in depth review

It was a lot of work customising the Microsoft Band to my liking but I enjoyed every minute of it. While the Basis Peak was my choice pick for all day activity tracking with its HR monitoring and limited smart phone connectivity, I thought the Microsoft Band provided an upgrade of sorts at the same price. It was a tumultuous wait for Microsoft to restock the activity tracker but the wait was worth the while.

After a week with the Microsoft Band, here’s what I have to say.

LOOK AND FEEL

MS-band-front-and-back

The Microsoft Band fits awkwardly on the wrist. It can be worn both with the display on the inside or outside of the wrist.

Wearing it on the inside made sense otherwise you’d get strangers staring at you notifications. It’s not a hard and fast rule since there are those among us who are still comfortable with the display on the outside of the wrist.

Display is crisp both indoors and outdoors but may pose a challenge under very bright sunlight.

MS-band-look

Now because of its bulk, you can definitely feel the Microsoft Band be it while you’re working or just going about your business. The fit actually reminded me of the less-than-mediocre LG lifeband Touch that was released to much fanfare a year back.

MS-band-screen

The Microsoft Band packs a multitude of functions within the activity tracker. GPS? Checked, UV monitor, skin temperature monitor, vibration motor. Checked, checked, checked. I’m not even listing the standard accelerometer and smart phone notifications you find in most smart phone devices and activity trackers today.

MS-band-clasp

The Microsoft Band comes in small, medium or large. What I especially like is the clasp system that allows minor tightening or loosening depending on the range of activities. Just click and slide; it’s ingenious.

MS-band-charging

Charging is through a proprietary cable and there’s only one in the package. The charging cable is magnetic so it snaps unto the port. The other end of the charging cable is a standard USB port.

The Microsoft Band is probably one of a few fitness bands I’ve worn that did not give me skin irritations of any sort even after a long sweaty day with physical activities and all. It may be the fact that that band does not encircle the wrist entirely due to its build or that the clasp grip allowed minor tweaks.

MS-band-dashboard

The app presentation is clean and intuitive. There are no customisation of any sort unless you count doodling on the band with a paint marker. Controls are managed by 2 physical buttons and a decently responsive touch screen. With so many functions to use, the controls are surprisingly simple.

ms-band-health-app-interface

I found the surface of the band prone to scratches and it shows on both the screen and the wrist-band portion of the Microsoft Band. In my opinion, this is inevitable when the tracker is worn with the display facing inwards. I know it sounds silly but get a screen protector.

FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION

I don’t recall having reviewed a tracker that manages to pack so many features into a device at this price. Microsoft Band has certainly broken new grounds here. A LG Nexus 5 was used for this review.

Activity tracking

The Microsoft Band is first and foremost an activity tracker. It was worn over 2 full days and the activity in terms of step count compared against 4 other established activity trackers on the market and these are the numbers:

Activity is synced via Bluetooth 4.0 and summarised in the Microsoft Health app. The app works on the tiles system, similar to the Microsoft desktop OS.

ms-band-steps-with-hr

Upon expanding the step count tile, I was able to see my step count for the day, active time, distance walked and a no-frills step progress goal.  Past data is also easy accessible. In the daily activity view, I also have the option of viewing my HR trend throughout the day

ms-band-steps-weekly-view

The weekly view provides an insight where the most active day, total step count and number of times goal is met is listed.

Calories burnt

ms-band-calories-day-and-week-view

The calories burnt tile works similar to the step counting where the chart of calories burnt based on HR presented in an easy to understand format. One thing to note, the basal metabolic rate is tracked even if I weren’t wearing the band.

Sleep tracking

MS-band-sleep-data

Sleep tracking is manually activated from the band. Given the presence of HR monitor, skin temperature sensor and accelerometer, there’s no reason why a software giant like Microsoft couldn’t have come up with an algorithm to automate this. Thankfully sleep data is easy to understand and includes information like

  • Restful sleep
  • Light sleep
  • Number of times woken up
  • Time to fall asleep
  • Efficiency
  • Duration
  • Resting HR
  • Calories burned during sleep

MS-band-slep-summary

The information captured is rich though based on the sleep I had, I don’t recall waking up so many times. I did appreciate the resting heart rate (RHR) readings. With a bit of exploring, I could also see sleeps from previous nights and also a sleep efficiency score.

Personally I thought sleep data is a very complex event to track and not easily quantifiable; I’m just going to settle for the sleep duration and RHR

Downloadable workouts

ms-band-find-a-workout

Perhaps sensing that most people who use fitness trackers tend to rely on 3rd party apps for workout programmes, Microsoft has tied up with Shape, Gold’s Gym, Muscle and Fitness, Benchmark Wod, Starting Strength, and Men’s Fitness to provide model sets of workouts ranging from runs and strength to body weight exercises.

ms-band-find-your-workout-details

Ideally you need to find one that suit your fitness level and target. The workouts also have a difficulty level rating and duration so you can plan beforehand which workout to do during that pocket of time you have.

MS-band-guided-workout

Having the workout downloaded unto the Microsoft Band also means there’s no need to bring your smart phone with you during workout. I just refer to the Microsoft Band and follow the instructions. 

The Microsoft Band is almost a fitness trainer or running coach who won’t bark at you on your wrist.

In built GPS

MS-band-biking-splits

The Microsoft Band has an inbuilt GPS so it’s not necessary to tether a smart phone GPS to the tracker. I activated the bike workout while sitting in a cab heading out . I wasn’t biking per se but I’d assume a really good biker would do about 40km/hr thereabouts. 🙂

MS-band-activity-biking-data

The data is presented under activity history where split timing, route taken are all presented. Map can be further expanded to examine the route.

MS-band-activyt-tracking-map

Perhaps in this aspect there’s no need to transmit the tracked data to 3rd party fitness apps since Microsoft Health app is pretty much comprehensive on its own.

 

During GPS enabled workouts, a few stats will appear on the display of the Microsoft Band and users can customise those also.

MS-band-running-buttons

The last tracked run can be accessed from the Microsoft Band for ease of recap. Usage is easy and the activity tracker even allows the user to start the run first while the Microsoft Band attempts to get a locked GPS signal in the background.

GPS-run

In the picture above, you can see that I’ve covered a total distance of 0.82km and the pace is 15:25 minutes per kilometre.

MS-band-web-dashboard

The best part is that all these data can be access on the web. You heard me right. Dashboard on the web. Here’s a web screenshots. Impressive? I thought so too.

UV monitor

MS-band-UV-level

The Microsoft Band has an in built UV monitor which supposedly measures the amount of UV in the day. I was able to measure the UV within the house which gave me a zero reading. Ok, sounds somewhat right.  Measuring the UV level at about 9am got me a ‘low’ reading and this message:

“Typical time to sunburn: 60 minutes”

At noon I got a moderate level reading on the UV monitor and this message:

“Typical time to sunburn: 45 minutes”

I’m unsure if this is that useful a function. It was a really hot day in sunny Singapore when I measured with the UV index maxing out at 10 by midday. Being a outdoors person, I too felt today was exceedingly scorching so I found the moderate reading less than convincing.

Smartphone notifications

ms-band-managing-tiles

The Microsoft Band can be connected to compatible smart phone devices to display various types of smart phone notifications including mobile messages, emails, phone calls, calendar, weather , finance, Twitter, Facebook, Facebook messenger.

As I’ve mentioned in the opening, it was tedious yet fun customising the band to display only the tiles I required and subsequently playing around with it.

MS-band-email-appearance

There’s also an option to display notification from all other apps but I had to activate the “Notification Center” and select which apps you wish to receive notifications from; selective or the whole nine yards.

Customisation

MS-band-home-screen

Everything right down to the Microsoft Band display can be customised. Choose a background and colour and texture you like and voila. I don’t recall having so much creativity over how the display looks and I love it.

MS-band-customisation-and-starbucks

You can also pay for your Starbucks drink at any Starbucks location in US by linking your Starbucks card within the Microsoft Health app. Being based in Singapore, this isn’t a feature I could try but I’d imagine it’d be another convenient feature

ANYTHING ELSE?

Besides the fit, probably the only thing that I didn’t like is the battery life. It seems daily charging is necessary unless you’re ok running out of juice mid workout on the second day.

When displaying emails, only the title of the email will be flashed. Microsoft has added a nifty feature called “Quickread” that flashes a word at a time across the display at a speed you are comfortable reading. Absolutely love this.

Data is synced wirelessly in the background as long as the device is near the connected smart phone mobile device.

MS-band-alarm-and-timer-function

The Microsoft Band is vibration enabled so alarms, count downs and notifications won’t be missed. Alarms and stop watches are also conveniently accessible right from the band.

ms-band-compatible-apps

There are a few connected apps at the moment. Nothing too fanciful. Perhaps Microsoft’s plan is to keep the users to its own system rather than rely on 3rd party apps.

Lastly with a compatible Windows phone, the Microsoft Band can activate Cortana to take voice commands. I didn’t try this function.

IN A NUTSHELL

Pros:

  • Tracks steps, exercise reps, calories, sleep
  • Optical heart rate sensor
  • In-built GPS
  • UV meter
  • Skin temperature sensor
  • 2 days battery life (1 hour workout and 8 hours sleep tracking daily)
  • Shows notifications from smartphones (calls, texts, emails)
  • Takes voice commands via Cortana on Windows 8.1 phones.
  • TFT full colour touch enabled display
  • Microphone
  • Vibration motor
  • Silent alarm
  • 2 physical buttons
  • Syncs wirelessly via Bluetooth 4.0
  • Sweat and spash resistant only
  • Display can be personalised
  • Functions work without requiring  paired smart phone to be near.
  • All tracked stats available online

Cons:

  • Awkward fit
  • Short battery life span with proprietary charger
  • Sleep tracking has to be manually started and stopped.
  • No addition of friends
  • Less than accurate heart rate readings

My new favourite activity tracker is the Microsoft Band. It’s ridiculously functional and its pretty much got everything sorted out. There’s no urgent need to transmit the data to 3rd party apps because the Microsoft Health app is comprehensive.

There’s some form of heart rate readings though in my experience the accuracy can’t be compared to chest worn heart rate monitors or dedicated optical heart rate sensors. I would use it as a gauge and nothing more in terms of heart rate reading.

I would have loved some options for accessorizing and definitely a thinner and more fitting band. The addition of friends and some motivation badges would probably ensure users continue with the Microsoft Band for a longer period of time.

Microsoft has announced that they’re committed to better the band usability experience and I suspect the next version of the MS Band will be mind blowing. Not that the current version is adequate of course. I already love mine and wear it religiously…Till the next better tracker comes along.

Similar trackers in the same price range:

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